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Everything You Know About Your 401(k) is Wrong. Here’s Why and What You Should Do About It

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Retirement savings is crucial for everyone because relying on social security is not enough to sustain yourself through your twilight years, especially considering that without any changes, the current social security system will only be able to pay benefits at 80% in 2035 and beyond. And the sooner you start, the better off you are.

It’s true that tax-deferred accounts like traditional IRAs, 401(k)s, defined contribution plans and cash balance plans allow you to save a portion of each paycheck, tax-deferred, to live on once you hit retirement age. Still, everything you’ve learned about these types of accounts is wrong. And here’s the scary part — it’s not that the people spreading incorrect information are uninformed. Many of them absolutely do know that what they’re telling investors is wrong, but they continue because they have a financial incentive to do so.

So in this article, I’m going to break down why what you know about your tax-deferred accounts is wrong and what you can do to ensure your retirement is spent living the life you love rather than struggling to make ends meet.

Related: A 401(k) is Risky. Here’s a Safer Investment Strategy.

Tax deferral plans only sound good in theory

While most tax-deferred accounts may seem like a great thing, they actually come with a lot of severe disadvantages that adversely affect your investment and retirement goals.

You’ll face higher taxes in the future

You may get a perceived tax break right now by putting money into your tax-deferred accounts, but all you’re really doing is deferring your taxes. It’s true that this does allow you to accumulate a larger balance due to compounding, but that also means you’ll pay higher taxes when you eventually do begin withdrawing your money.

As time goes on, there’s always the risk of higher tax rates when you take distributions. This alone should make you reconsider because you could easily end up paying more tax than you would now. In many cases, your tax-deferred compounding may not make up for the higher taxation, especially in the new economy of stagflation and higher interest rates.

Most people today go through their daily lives with a false sense of security in their financial decisions. That’s both because we’ve all been misinformed by many in the financial industry and because most people have delegated their financial decisions to someone who has a vested interest in them investing in certain financial asset classes.

It’s only much later in life, near or after retirement, when most people realize that they’ve made the wrong financial decisions, and by then, it’s usually too late.

Related: Searching for Talent? Consider Setting Up a 401(k) for Your Small Business to Keep Up in the Market.

Your money is locked until you’re 59.5 years old

Any money you place into a tax-deferred account is locked until you reach age 59.5. This means that unless you want to pay a hefty penalty to access it earlier, you’re stuck letting Wall Street handle your funds. There’s no ability to access or use the money for a better investment opportunity that may come along.

With few and limited exceptions, if you leave the workforce before age 59.5, you can’t live off of your investments if they’re all in a tax-deferred account. A will let you withdraw your contributions but not your earnings, providing some flexibility with those funds.

You learn little to nothing about investing

When you put your money into these tax-deferred accounts, you’re trusting your financial future to the financial advisors and money managers who have a vested interest in you following the status quo. Essentially, they make their money by getting you to invest in certain financial instruments and have no direct responsibility or liability for actual performance.

This teaches you nothing about how to make the most of your wealth, how to use your assets to generate cash flow or how to ensure you’re making solid investments. This is, in my opinion, the biggest disadvantage that no one talks about: Abdication of your own financial future.

If you discover a fund, stock or another investment that you want to buy, but your retirement plan doesn’t offer it — you’re simply out of luck. The limited choices are meant to keep administrative expenses low, but those limitations prevent you from having full control over the growth of your assets.

Related: 4 Ways to Save for Retirement Without a 401(k)

Loss of other tax benefits

Other tax benefits, such as cost segregation, depreciation and long-term capital gain lower tax rates, are void inside these tax-deferred accounts. You also lose the stepped-up basis tax mitigation allowance for assets you wish to pass to heirs, which greatly reduces the ability to create generational wealth.

Ridiculous fees and costs

The small company match in your 401(k) isn’t much more than a little bit of extra compensation. If you’re only using a 401(k) for retirement, you’re doing yourself a disservice. They’re full of fees, from plan administration fees to investment fees to service fees and more. And the smaller the company you work for, the higher these fees tend to be.

Even if your fee is just 0.5%, which is the absolute bottom of the fee range, you’re still paying far more for your 401(k) than you should, and that money could be invested in other places to help fuel your retirement growth. For example, if you’re maxing out your contributions at $19,500 per year, with an additional $3,000 in employer contributions, you’ll pay about $261,000 in fees, which translates to 9.5% of your returns.

Opting out of a 401(k) retirement plan enables you to take that 9.5% and invest it in other more effective ways that will provide a higher return. But what should you do instead?

Self-direction and Roth IRA conversion

Qualified retirement accounts not tied to an employer-based plan may be “self-directed.” This means that you, the account owner, can choose from an unlimited number of investment assets, including alternatives such as real estate. Moving such accounts from your existing custodian to one that allows for full self-direction is easy to do and should be high on consideration for those who want more control over their investments.

Roth conversions can be a great way to save money on future taxation. You can convert your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA, which means you will pay taxes on the money you convert in the year of conversion, but after conversion, your money will grow tax-free. This is a great way to save money on taxes in the long run since you won’t have to pay taxes on the money you withdraw from your Roth IRA in retirement.

Don’t forget the J-Curve strategy

The idea behind the J-Curve is that if a non-cash asset is converted from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and it experiences a temporary loss in market value, the tax on the asset conversion can be proportionally lowered based on the reduced asset value at the time of conversion.

This strategy is available to anyone who’s invested in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and index funds and experienced a market loss. In the alternative space, however, the decreased valuation is based on information known in advance, with a plan based on a future value add to the asset. This means that while you don’t take a realized loss over the long term, you can benefit from a paper loss to reduce your tax exposure in the short term.

The J-Curve strategy is underutilized, mainly because so few people know about it, but it can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars when properly applied.

Ignore what you’ve been taught about retirement savings

If you want to dramatically change the trajectory of your retirement and create generational wealth for your family, I have a simple piece of advice — ignore everything the financial industry has taught you about tax-deferred accounts.

Take the time to learn about investing, and avoid the traditional tax-deferred accounts like traditional IRAs, 401(k)s, defined contribution plans, and cash balance plans — instead, leverage assets like Roth IRAs and real estate, which are superior in literally every way.

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